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January 18, 2022

Effective Use of Safety Metrics

Leading and Lagging Indicators

Scott Rief

Effective use of safety metrics can help an organization measure the success of their safety culture. Occupational safety and health professionals use leading and lagging indicators to better understand where safety opportunities within an organization might exist.

Lagging indicators are metrics that quantify data from events that have already taken place. Many of the OSHA and BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) based injury rates are considered lagging indicators. Examples of lagging indicators are total recordable incident rate (TRIR) or days away, restricted, or transfer rate (DART). Lagging indicators serve an important role in that the data can be analyzed in order to implement measures that will prevent future incidents and injuries.

Leading indicators offer a proactive approach to safety metrics. They measure events leading up to injuries, illnesses, and other incidents and reveal potential opportunities in an organization’s safety and health program. A few examples of leading indicators include:

  • Number of workers who attend monthly safety training
  • Number of near-misses reported by employees
  • Employee perception survey results
  • Successful completion of worksite safety inspections

The advantages to utilizing safety metrics can be substantial; however, it can be challenging to know where to get started. You may already be tracking some leading or lagging indicators without knowing it. For example, OSHA requires employers to report recordable injuries at the end of each calendar year. This is an excellent lagging indicator to begin with since the data is already being collected. With a deeper dive into the number of recordable incidents we have and the details of those incidents, we can determine how we want to prioritize our safety efforts. You may also be tracking who attends monthly safety trainings. You may look at your training records and realize that several employees are not participating consistently. By tracking monthly participation, we can potentially increase attendance. I may realize that when I conduct training on Friday afternoon, my participation rate is 70%. After doing some research, I find that many of my employees take Friday afternoons off. When I move training to Wednesday, I am seeing a 95% turnout. Understanding the data not only helped me realize the issue at hand, but helped me determine the cause and solution as well.

Once you have selected which metrics you would like to track, it is important to set SMART goals. Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Reasonable, and Timely. If your organization had fifteen recordable injuries last year, it is likely not reasonable to set a goal of zero recordable injuries for the current year. Organizations should periodically measure progress towards established goals and take action when they are not being met. It is important to involve employees in the process and communicate overall progress so that everyone is rowing the boat in the same direction.

Indicators can be used to make measurable and long-lasting improvements to safety and health outcomes in the workplace. OSHA’s Leading Indicators Guide, provides great insight into developing a successful metrics program. In addition, MMA has assembled a guide on how to calculate the OSHA injury rates mentioned above and compare them to the average for your industry.

Should you have any recordkeeping questions please feel free to reach out to your local MMA safety consultant or email